Anyone could write a book about my grandmother. And they could probably find out a heck of a lot more about her life than I know through research.
That doesn't mean they knew her.
That's not authenticity.
It is factual; it is not authentic.
Authenticity is heart.
I've written before that voice is the aspect of the novel that lets the reader forget about the writer. It's what makes characters real. It has perspective, a unique way of thinking about and looking at things based on where he/she is from and the experiences he/she has had.
If you were to ask me to describe my grandma, I would smile and laugh a little as I reflect and begin to speak. Why? What prompts that emotional reaction? Authentically writing about my grandma is evoking in the reader that same reaction - allowing them to feel my perspective.
A writer's craft is in figuring out what tools to use and how to do this; showcasing memories? Using key words (for example, notice I immediately switched to "grandma" instead of "grandmother" when I started writing about her)?
My point of view is one of the more intimate; it is not the only point of view or the whole story or even perhaps the most accurate. But it is authentic because it is based on experience. It is perfectly possible to portray her in a different way based on a different authentic point of view because mine is not the only experience with her.
Heart comes from an original experience.
So here's the challenge: a writer, who has never met my grandma, needs to figure out first, what an authentic point of view would be, and second, how to accurately evoke the emotional response in the reader to convey that POV
The farther the writer's intimacy with that point of view, the harder it will be to accomplish.
And it's not just research that will do that.
It takes a lot more introspection and dissecting. It takes a full understanding of the limitations the writer may have to understand that point of view.
The problem I often see is that a lot of writers confuse this work (creating authenticity) with research, or presenting facts.
An exercise in authenticity:
- Tell me about your grandma.
- What emotional reaction did you have as you began to reflect and think about what to say? (This is your authentic point of view).
- How (and what) do you write to evoke that same emotional reaction in the reader as they are given the information? (This is writing an authentic point of view).
I hope that you find this exercise challenging; it should be! It is the effort any of your characters' voices should be given. Find the heart!